Senior women in winter coat - Preventing Hypothermia

Preventing Hypothermia: Cold Weather Safety for Older Adults

As we get older, our bodies lose the ability to generate enough heat required to fight cold temperatures. This doesn’t create a problem during most of the year. As winter settles in, though, seniors need to protect themselves from falling temperatures. Without the right protection, they could develop hypothermia.

It doesn’t take long for the signs of hypothermia to appear. Early signs include feeling sleepy, pale skin, and slurred speech. If the person stays in the cold, later signs can include slow heartbeat, shallow breathing, and losing consciousness.

As winter approaches, take note of these seven ways that you can prevent hypothermia in yourself and your loved ones.

Wear Warm Clothing When Going Outside

Wearing the right clothing when you go outside is one of your best defenses against hypothermia. Before heading outdoors, wrap yourself in layers of clothing to preserve your body heat. You should also wear:

  • A waterproof/insulated coat to protect yourself from snow and rain.
  • Gloves or mittens to keep your hands warm.
  • A hat and scarf that will prevent body heat from escaping.
  • Thick socks and boots to keep your feet warm.

Wet clothing makes it easier for cold temperatures to cheer you. If your clothes get wet while you’re outside, make sure you change in to dry clothing as soon as possible.

Use Hand Warmers When You Go Outside

Ideally, you won’t spend time outside during winter. If you need to shovel your driveway or walk your dog, though, you will need to go outdoors.

In most cases, wearing warm clothing will help you avoid hypothermia. Given enough time, though, the cold will penetrate your layers of clothing.

You can stop the cold weather from chilling you to the bone by carrying hand warmers. Hand warmers contain a mixture of iron, activated carbon, and salt, to produce heat when exposed to air.

Several companies make hand warmers, so you should have plenty of options to consider. You can also find warmers specifically designed for your toes and feet.

Stay Active When You Go Outside

Although it’s best to stay indoors on cold days, you may need to venture outside even when you don’t want to. In addition to wearing several layers of clothing and carrying hand warmers, you should stay active to keep your body temperature high.

When you go outside, try not to stand still for very long. The more you move your body, the more heat you will generate.

Set Your Indoor Temperature to 67 or Higher

On average, humans have a body temperature of 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit (37 degrees Celsius). Signs of hypothermia can appear when your body temperature dips to just 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celsius). In other words, it doesn’t take a significant change in body temperature for you to get sick.

Some people assume that they can avoid hypothermia as long as they stay indoors. It’s important, though, to make sure that your indoor temperature stays at 67 degrees Fahrenheit (19.5 degrees Celsius). If the temperature drops to 60 degrees, then your body temperature could fall to 95 degrees within a few hours.

Avoid Drinks That Contain Alcohol and Caffeine

Alcoholic beverages may make you feel warmer, but they steal warmth from your core. When you drink alcohol, your blood vessels widen, which makes you feel warmer and impairs your skin’s ability to detect cold temperatures.

Although you feel warmer, your core temperature suffers when warmth gets redistributed to your blood vessels. The warming effect of drinking alcohol is an illusion. In reality, you’re making it more likely that you will develop hypothermia.

Caffeine has a similar effect. Drinking a cup of coffee may sound like the perfect way to prevent hypothermia. The beverage’s temperature, however, will not offset the effect of redistributing your core warmth to your skin and extremities.

If you must drink caffeine, try to limit your intake on cold days. You may want to replace your cup of coffee with green tea or another beverage with less caffeine.

Know How Your Health Conditions Affect You

Your health conditions can affect the way that your body responds to cold temperatures. An under-active thyroid, for instance, makes it difficult for your body to regulate its temperature, especially in extreme cold.

Diabetes can also affect your body’s response to cold weather. If you have diabetes, then your blood may not circulate well enough to keep you warm outside during winter.

Certain medications can also make it hard for your body to adjust to chilly temperatures. Talk to your doctor to learn more about how your health conditions and medications could affect you.

Seek Medical Attention If You Spot Signs of Hypothermia

Hypothermia can lead to serious health conditions, so you don’t want to take it lightly. If you notice signs of hypothermia in yourself or a loved one, then you should seek medical attention immediately. If necessary, call 9-1-1 for help.

In the meantime, you can increase your body temperature by:

  • Staying in a warm place.
  • Wrapping yourself in blankets or layering clothing.
  • Drinking a warm beverage that doesn’t contain caffeine or alcohol.

Protect yourself this winter by staying warm and avoiding situations that could put you in peril. Following the above tips doesn’t ensure that you’re safe from hypothermia, but they will lower your chances of illness.

Contact Us

If you have questions regarding these or other concerns, contact us at (978) 282-9551 or use our facility locator tool.

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